GG183; Levin 1915

The third in the batch that has been completed is a Levin from 1915. It is a bit unusual as it has a dark brown-red color, usually similar Levin parlors have a lighter yellow-brown color. It is possible that this is more like the original and that the red color has not yet been faded by sunlight. The story behind the guitar is that it was discovered in a newly bought old house, the seller let it be included in the purchase. It may have been protected in the dark for many years and fortunately the strings on it had not been tuned

It was in unusually good condition without cracks in the top or bottom, except for the bottom which had a small crack in the middle joint. Both the top and bottom were thick, about 4 mm in the top, and had to be thinned out considerably with the drum sander on the bottom and planers in the top. The bottom did not need to be thinned too much, parts of the burn stamp could be preserved. The neck in soft poplar wood had some minor damage from a capo. The tuners were not in the best condition and were replaced with new ones.

The original bridge was of the simpler triangular type and very tall. It and the walnut fingerboard were replaced with Madagascar rosewood, the bridge was replaced with a replica Levin pyramid bridge. The neck in soft poplar was given a carbon fiber rod and a wood screw through the neck block, the latter to strengthen the weak attachment without a dove tail. The fingerboard was given a 16´ radius and the bridge a segmented saddle. All braces were replaced in the usual order, the third brace at the bottom was made flat to make the bottom less rigid. Nut intonation, spruce bridge plate, plugs and a mounted K&K mic made GammelGura complete.

One thing I have been working on lately is to glue the neck at the right angle. I now fit the neck in two steps, once with the bridge but not the bottom glued, and a second time when the bottom is glued and before the neck is glued in place. For the first time, I make sure that the sides have about the right shape, with the bottom as the measure, with the help of a threaded rod between the neck and bottom block and two straps across the sides. With approximately the right shape on the sides, the neck block gets almost the same angle it has with the bottom glued in place. Doing the adjustment of the neck in two steps facilitates the adjustment, at least the second time, which becomes more of a fine-tuning.

The bottom gluing went well as it always does with my clamp jig. Since the bottom is always a bit shrunken, part of the edge of the bottom at the waist must be scrapped off with a sharp knife and files. With a magnifying glass and the greatest care and a little patience, you can do it without scraping off the thin varnish on the side near the joint. The wood-white surface is then stained to the same color as the bottom and side. Normally, Herdin “Carl-Johan” brown stain fits on a yellow-brown Levin parlor, this time I had to mix in a little red to match better.

The intonation went well and the saddle got a height of about 4 mm, which is ideal. The fretboard got EVO FW74GOLD frets, the new tuniners got 12 bushings on the posts, a gutar band knob on the neck foot and my variant of StrapKeeper assembled. The last thing that was done was the side dots in 2 mm mother of pearl and the label, the last one I always forget! After three days of vibration, it opened up as they always do with longer sustain and better sound.

Since it was a snowstorm outside, I had to take the pictures of the finished guitar in the room. One Gator 3/4 case fits perfectly with Levin parlor guitars.

Here we see it in its true element, the recording studio in the old house!

Intonation tool

I started thinking a bit about my special tool for intonation, the one I have used so far is really just a prototype, although it worked very well.

One thing that distinguishes the measurement from the finished saddle is that only one of the strings, the one I measure, has the right height above the bridge. It can be assumed that the force that bends the neck becomes slightly greater with all the strings higher in the position they get when the saddle is finished. Even if the effect is small, I want the measurement to be as accurate as possible. To emulate the finished saddle, I made small adjustable "saddles" for each of the strings. A small brass plate had two threaded holes and two 6 mm adjusting screws. The height of the "saddle" is easily adjusted for each string.

To make room with the special tool between the adjustable "saddles", I redid the part where the string rests and made it as narrow as I could, 12 mm. With my new Proxxon KG 50 it was easier to cut to the square steel rod nicely and jack out the ditch for the string. I have also obtained some carbide drills in good quality (1,5 and 2,5 mm) to drill the holes.

We'll see how it works at the next measurement of the intonation, probably no major difference but better!

Edit: Started thinking about weight. A saddle weighs only about 4 grams, while all the parts above together weigh 15 grams. I have ordered set-screws in nylon that should reduce the weight by one gram and also cut off 4 grams of unnecessary material on the tool. Still about 6 grams heavier than the finished saddle, but I have to live with that. Here is the tool 1.2 after dieting.

Article in American Lutherie No. 144

For the past year, I have been working on an article where I describe my GammelGura, the bracing, the spruce bridge plate, plugs, segmented saddle and the nut intonation. It all resulted in a lot of pictures and enough text to fill 17 pages in the next issue of American lutherie. Not only that, my special tool for measuring the intonation of the saddle ended up on the cover :-)

The magazine American lutherie is a member magazine for Guild of American Luthiers, members of the association receive four 76-page thick issues in color sent home to the mailbox. The material is varied and is about everything between heaven and earth, or rather between mandolins and standing basses - but most of all about guitars. Not everything is of the highest quality (although there are many such articles as well) as it is members who submit the articles, but it is always fun reading. Membership for one year outside the United States costs $ 72. Everything is of course in English and many measurements in inches and feet… Anyone who is amused by general guitar obsession should become a member, not least to be able to read my article!

You can also buy individual single issues if they are not sold out.

The magazine is also very reminiscent of Ciklidbladet, the membership magazine for the Nordic Cycling Society, of which I was editor for about 10 years.

Dare to saw!

In addition to GammelGura, I do some regular repairs. One such common repair was a Levin guitar lute that really should have been tipped over the edge of the pedigree. The top was really dried, shrunk, cracked and sunken, probably more than half an inch. Even the bottom was shrunk and, as it turned out later, the neck was not centered side-to-side. String height of more than 1 cm at the 12th band. But it was a family heirloom, and such are only available in a single copy. I took it on.

Loosening the bottom was not very difficult. Inside, a brace was missing in the bottom and two braces in the top were cracked, which explained that the top had sunk in. The bridge was also far too high, the torque from the strings (which had been tensioned for many years) had rotated the bridge into the top. The cracks in the top were long and wide and had to be filled in with three sticks about 1 mm wide. The deformed top was soaked up and put under pressure to flatten before I glued in new braces. Since it was a repair, a simpler bridge plate was made in spruce and only a few reinforcements around the sound hole and not an A-frame as I do on a GammelGura.

The neck was straight and strong and it did not get a carbon fiber rod. But even with the top in the right shape, the neck angle was completely wrong. No problems usually, but on a lute guitar, the neck and neck block are made in a single piece. I thought a bit before I realized that the only sensible solution was to get loose with the big sharp Japanese saw! A triangular piece, 3 mm on the wide end, was sawn out to straighten the neck. The gap was tightened with a clamp and a wood screw and glued with epoxy glue mixed with rosewood dust. To hide the joint, I put in ebony strips as a decoration and stained with brown stain. Looks like it was meant to be.

The bridge, with holes from two screws that were hidden behind two pearl dots, was planed down to the right height and got a bone saddle. The very ugly yellowish color of the bridge, which is often found on Levin like this, hid a beautiful dark brown rosewood. The varnish is very tough, but with a little will you can get rid of the yellow varnish with coarse sandpaper and a sickle. The bridge was re-glued in the same place with the help of the string pins.

When the bottom was glued, I used a steel beam to fix the neck angle to the top of the bridge. It worked well. The bottom, which had been thinned and given new braces and a center stitch over the joint on the inside, had shrunk and did not fit on the side. A black plastic binding was milled in all around.

To get a straight fretboard, a triangular shim was glued under the fretboard on the top. It was 3 mm thick at the end, which is a lot. The frets were not in the right place, it differed at most about 1,5 mm on some of the first frrets. I filled in all the sawn-out grooves in the fretboard with walnut sticks and sawed up new grooves in the right place and re-fretted after sanding the board.

Only when I put strings on did I realize that the neck was not centered to the bridge. I should have checked before, but since both the fingerboard and the bridge were stuck in their original positions while I glued the bottom, I did not think that the neck angle side-to-side would be wrong. Possibly something happened when I sawed the neck or when I glued the shim under the fretboard, but probably it had never been right. In any case, by stealing some space on both sides of the nut saddle, it became good enough to work.

A new nut and saddle were made, and the string height was adjusted. The neck and fretboard are completely straight with a suitable high saddle.

It's good to be reminded of how a guitar sounds that has not segmented saddle, nut intonation and plugs. The thick E string on this one has a low volume compared to the other strings and feels very tame in comparison with a GammelGura. A negative confirmation of my theories indeed. Even so, it sounds better than ever! I mounted an old knob on the neck for the guitar strap, a guitar strap is a must on a lute shaped guitar like this, otherwise the body shape makes it as slippery as a soap!

GG185; European parlor, ca 1910

The second to finish in the batch is an unusually cool and curvy European parlor. It is a little nicer than usual, with beautiful mother-of-pearl inlays around the sound hole and a wooden binding around the bottom. Behind the dark and worn spirit varnish is also a beautiful tiger striped maple at the bottom and side. The original fretboard was thin and flat, but also in fine rosewood.

The original tuners were functional, but also carelessly assembled in the factory. There had to be new tuning screws, the old ones had to come with the guitar in the Ortega 3/4 case.

In addition to the dry and brittle spirit varnish at the bottom and side, it was in good condition minus some real cracks in the top and a cracked neck foot. Some wider cracks got a spruce stick glued in, I use material from an old top with a similar color and varnish. The bridge in black-painted maple was replaced with a replica in rosewood, and the fretboard was also replaced with rosewood with a 16´ radius.

Like all guitars in the bach (and the upcoming GammelGura), the neck's square carbon fiber tube was reinforced at the lower end with a piece of round rod in solid carbon fiber. Through the 5 x 1 x 1 cm solid end of the carbon fiber tube and almost the entire neck foot, a hole was drilled for an 8 mm round rod in birch. The L-shaped reinforcement makes the neck, including the neck foot, very strong.

Top and bottom got new braces and patches in spruce. The larger brace under the fretboard in the top is not glued until I tested with the neck at the right angle to the bridge and saddle. Should a triangular shim be needed between the fretboard and top to get the fretboard straight, I can instead give the brace a larger radius and thus push the top up against the fretboard without having to mount a triangular shim. On this one, everything was as it should be, with the neck at the right angle to the bridge and saddle, the fretboard was both straight and flush against the top. The last top brace could be glued with the usual 30 ′ radius.

Before gluing the bottom and the K&K mic, the string pin holes must be reamed and the bridge slotted for the strings in the holes for the unslotted string pins. The ebony string pins have been given a 4 mm round pearl dot to match the original handmade string pins. To do the job, which takes a little while to do, I use a reamer, a small saw and some needle files. Sometimes I also use a Dremel with a round cutter for the thickest strings to work faster, but it's not without risk; safest to only work with hand tools! The groove must be made much deeper and wider for the thicker wound strings than the unwound. The string pin must be able to be pressed down completely and be fixed just enough and not too tight. I have made six cuts of NH 0.12 strings, which I use as a template when testing the fit. The string balls rest against the reinforcement / plug around the holes in the bridge plate.

Since the bottom had a wooden binding that was scrapped, a wider kerfing was needed to glue the bottom. Small fitting pieces of plastic were made to be used around the bottom when gluing the bottom to make room for the new wooden binding.

When the bottom is glued in place, I used a cutter to mill to the same depth all around for the new binding. When gluing a shrunken bottom, the bottom always protrudes at the waist when fitting the upper and lower half of the bottom towards the sides. The new binding consisted of an inner decorative strip and an outer and wider strip in rosewood. They were formed with heat and soaked in water and temporarily mounted on the guitar. When dried, they retain their shape, which facilitates gluing. I also make a couple of cauls to clamp the strips at the waist properly, I lined the cauls with a 4 mm rubber mat.

The actual gluing of the bindings are done one side at a time, for the wooden binding I used hot hide glue and a lot of tape.

The result was good.

The old holes for the tuners were plugged as the distance between the posts on old European guitars is tighter than with modern tuners (the American standard). It can be a little tricky to drill the holes so that the two tuners are flush with each other. The best way is to place the two tuners on top of the head and adjust the position with eye measurements. Old guitars never have a completely straight fit on either the head or the cutouts! With the tuners in the correct position, the center posts are marked on both sides and provide the center point for the middle boreholes. In my nice jig for drilling the holes straight and centered, I can see the marking for the middle hole using an LED lamp.

Stewmac's "Golden Age" tuning screws have a small washer around the post. To fit the tuning screw tightly to the head, the holes are reamed to make room for the washer.

To mount metal bushings for the posts, all holes up to 7.1 mm are then drilled with a converted jig for flat heads. The twelve bushings are mounted and glued with fish glue, the bushings for two pairs where the center post is the narrowest are cut lengthwise.

The old screw holes are plugged with toothpicks and super glue. The new holes are drilled up a small 2 mm hand drill that has a short screw thread in the tip.

With my neck glued, I used my "plank jig" to mount the EVO frets. The guitar was measured for intonation.

On this one, I again used my trick to lubricate with squalane before I applied a layer of spirit varnish on top of the old varnish. The old varnish was porous and sensitive to shocks. Squalane penetrates into all dry pores (which the varnish does not) and gives the varnish a deep and uniform color. The new spirit varnish adheres well to both old varnish and squalane. The glossy spirit varnish was matted down with steel wool and hand polished to just the right gloss.

Using the measurements from the intonation, a nut and a segmented saddle were manufactured. The string height and the intonation of the nut and saddle are adjusted with files. The last thing I usually do is glue the label (which I always forget to make!), mount the side dots and the strap knob on the neck foot.

This one got my signature sound, like all other GammelGura, with good intonation, playability, string separation, volume and attack. I always spend some time playing the guitar, partly because it's fun, but also to listen for noise. I had to take another turn on this one as I obviously ground the saddle a little too flat on top and the D string rattled. After adjusting, it sounded like it should.

As it is a dark season right now, you only have a few hours a day when you can take pictures of the finished guitar, but it went well.

GG184; European rosewood parlor from around 1920

I am not used to have a deadline, but this GammelGura was to be delivered within a week. I was only halfway done, so I had to work over the weekend to get it finished.

It's not often you see a European parlor with solid rosewood at the bottom and side, it's probably actually the first one I worked with. The fretboard was also in rosewood. American pearl guitars from the turn of the last century often have rosewood in the bottom and side and also mahogany in the neck, the woods were expensive in Europe. The neck and bridge on this one were in maple, as they are usually in a European parlors. I have seen the rosette on other similar guitars and was very lavish with lots of mother-of-pearl. The top in European spruce was also better than normal, it had no or very little run-out, i.e. the fibers followed the same angle as the top's surface

The tuners were nice and also had a screw in the cog, which is very rare on European parlor guitars

It had been trimmed at some point where the varnish on the bottom and side had been removed, and the entire guitar gets a relatively thick and shiny layer of shellac. I left the shellac on the top, except for the rosette, the bottom and side were cleaned with rubbing alcohol and got a few rounds of alcohol varnish instead. The top had some fine drying cracks that were easy to glue together. As usual with rosewood, the bottom also had several long, continuous and fine cracks. They were glued and reinforced on the inside with mahogany reinforcements. The bottom also had a binding of rosewood all around and a nice decorative strip of maple between the bottom halves.

The bridge in black-painted maple was replaced with a replica in rosewood. However, the small decorations on the mustache tips remained original. The thin and flat fretboard was replaced with a new and thicker rosewood board with a 16 ″ radius.

Given the tuners and the unusual wood, I think it is a little later and made somewhere between 1920 to 1925.

The biggest problem with it was the wooden binding around the bottom. If you want to save the original, the bottom must be sawn loose just below the binding. I chose to scrap the binding and make a new one instead, fitting a shrunken bottom to the sides is not a good idea. With a new binding, I could glue the bottom without building in tension by making the new binding a little wider. Of course, there will be a lot of extra work with that solution.

At the bottom I could see that the bracing were not the best. The brace at the bridge was located behind the bridge itself, which makes the area in front of the bridge weak. Despite this, the top had done well without too much deformation. The bridgeplate was in spruce without reinforcements around the pinholes, which is nice but only works for gut- or nylon strings. The braces in the top and bottom were not quite as clumsy as they usually are, the top had thin plates of maple as reinforcement around the sound hole.

The top was a little too thick, I sanded off about half a mm to 3 mm. The bottom was about 2,6 mm thick and did not need to be thinned. I was a little unsure if it was walnut or rosewood, but the bottom was both heavy and hard, and no doubt rosewood.

All braces were replaced in the usual order. The neck got its carbon fiber rod, this time with an extra strong reinforcement of the neck heel. My new version of my jig for sanding radius in the fretboard worked very well, with my new bandsaw I could easily cut out a new mustache bridge. I also cut the binding to the bottom with the bandsaw. It's good to have good tools!

To have something to glue the bottom, minus the original binding, against, I glued on an extra kerfing around the bottom. I used linden wood from an old shutter, a very practical material as it does not need to be bent with heat. The bottom was glued with small distances in plastic around between the bottom and the side clamps, the edge was milled and a decorative strip and a rosewood binding formed with heat were glued in with hot hide glue. The special binding around the bottom took one or two extra days to get in place. Clearing the bottom and side from the tough shellac also took a lot of time. It was a slightly more demanding conversion than usual.

No K&K mic was fitted, but otherwise it got all the features. This guitar had never intonated well, when I measured the intonation to place the frets on the fretboard, the 12th fret ended up several mm from the body and not exactly on the edge. The fretboard got four new and smaller pearl dots, the originals were milky white rather than shiny. With clear spirit lacquer, that I did not fade down with steel wool, on the rosette, that mother-of-pearl inlay shined a lot!

I have taken my time and come up with a better way to glue in the neck than before with my neck gluing jig. In short, I am more careful than before to really fit my neck right. I also aim 1 mm lower than before towards the top of the bridge to compensate for the small bend the neck gets with tensioned strings and the material that is sanded away to give the fretboard a relief and for the crowning of the frets. With the new methods, it takes a lot before I have to glue the neck again. Knock on wood.

The intonation of the guitar went as it should, the new mechanical stroboscope tuner is more accurate than the old digital. The saddle did not need to be thicker than about 4 mm on this one, and the nut only needed small corrections for best intonation. The neck was painted with a couple of turns of black spirit lacquer, and the fingerboard got side dots in 2 mm mother-of-pearl. The tuners did not get any bushings as the holes in the posts were placed too close to the edges, a bushing had covered half the hole. The old tuners worked well.

A Ortega 3/4 case was purchased from Thomann, a good case for small curvy parlor guitars like this one.

It is a very beautiful guitar and the customer who picked it up in the room is very happy with it 🙂

Batch; Installation of string pins and tuners

With the Bridge and bridgeplate glued and ready, including plugs and buttons, the next step is to assemble the stringpins. I use new solid stringpins in ebony where I drilled in 4 mm mother of pearl dots. They are similar to the handmade originals, but they are all perfectly shaped, and you do not have to keep track of which holes the pins should fit for the best fit.

The pin holes need to be enlarged and reamed and notches filed out in the bridge for the strings. Using slotted pins is easy, but it is not the best solution. With slotted pins, there is a great risk that the bridgeplate and/or stringpins will wear over time.

To do the job, I use my Proxxon to quickly mill up a beginning to a deep notch for the three thickest strings. The finishing touches are then made with one small saw and some round needle files. I have prepared a set of cut Newtone Heritage 0,12 strings which I use as a template for the notch in the bridge.

The holes are reamed to the same conical shape as the stringpins.

The edges of the holes are chamfered with a special tool.

With the help of my Proxxon, the mini saw and files, I make sure that the string and the stringpin are tight enough.

The ball ends lie nicely on top of the bridgeplate as they should.

Old European parlor guitars had no standard in the distance between the tuner posts. They are usually spread tighter than on modern tuners, which have the same spread as American tuners had since the end of the 1800th century. After World War II, or at least during the 1950s, the American standard became standard throughout the world. Old tuning screws are seldom as good as new ones, although they can work really well on a slotted head if the cog is placed behind the worm. When the strings are tightened, the cog is pressed against the worm and the tuning screw becomes tighter. In the mid-1920s, when flat heads began to be made, the order of the cog and the screw was reversed. With a flat head and the screw above the cog, the tuning screw becomes less loose, with a slotted head they are pulled apart. Old European tuners from around 1900 or earlier are more solid and usually work better than the tuners from the 1920s.

The old tuners are usually replaced with new ones on an GammelGura, they can be broken or too loose. The first thing to do is to plug the old holes and drill new ones. Since old guitars are handmade, it is not possible to measure the location of the new holes. You have to rely on the eye measurement and do what you can to place the tuning screws opposite each other. The easiest way is to place both of the two new tuners on top of the head and mark the position of the middle post on a piece of tape.

I use a very good jig to easily drill the new holes. With a lamp can I see the marking through the hole of the jig.

Stewmac's Golden Age tuning screws has a washer that protrudes on the underside around the post. In order to be able to pull the plate tightly against the wood, the edge of the hole is chamfered off.

I always reinforce the holes with metal bushings. Partly to give the end of the string a maximum hard attachment, but mostly so that the string does not eat into the wood. It also looks nice! To do this, the holes must be made larger. A jig for flat head has had the holes drilled to 7,1 mm. Before the bushings are glued in, I take the opportunity to paint the head with black spirit varnish.

The bushings are glued in place with fish glue. Some bushings must be cut as the center post in the slotted head is narrower than two bushings against each other. I use a little nice Knipex pliers to press in the bushings, the advantage of which is that the jaws are always parallel.

The outer bushings do not need to be cut. A metal bar is used to simplify assembly.

All screw holes from the old tuner are filled with toothpicks and super glue. New holes are made using an awl (an old ice chopper!) And a handy 2 mm hand drill.

The tuners are mounted and functional.

Batch; A newcomer

Now that all the guitars have been repaired, got braces in the top and bottom and a carbon fiber rod, I mostly work with two at a time until they are ready. First out are the two who had a wooden bindings around the bottom. Both get new rosewood in fretboard and bridge.

GG187 European * bling * parlor, ca 1920
In addition, there is a newcomer in the batch, number 4 in the waiting room. It was paid in advance a year ago and I feel obligated to get it ready. It is almost in the same position as the others, but needs a carbon fiber rod.

Batch; Kerfing and string pin holes

There are some minor jobs to do with the body that are not always needed. In this batch, two bottoms had a wood binding around the bottom. Such a binding can usually not be saved unless the bottom is sawn loose. I loosened the bottom by scrapping the binding instead to later replace it with a new binding of the same wood.

One problem is that the bottom that remains does not have enough kerfing to glue to without a binding as the binding is about as wide as the narrow original kerfing. My solution is to build on the kerfing with another thin piece of wood around it. For that, I use linden from an old shutter that has been cut and thinned to the right thickness and height. An advantage is that linden is malleable when soaked with hot water from the tap. By first squeezing it with clamps without glue and letting it dry, they stick in the right shape and can then be easily glued with hot hide glue.

The other guitar in the batch with a wooden binding around the bottom received the same treatment.

Another step that always comes back is to fill in the old string pin holes in the top. I have made a pile of 6 mm round fitting pieces in radial spruce that is glued with hot hide glue and clamped with a clamp.

Batch; Gluing top bracing

One of the bigger jobs is to glue the new braces in the top. I use the original bridge and the holes for the stringpins to place the bridgeplate in spruce and all the bracing with it as a starting point. First, all plates and braces are measured and rough-formed and test-mounted loosely.

The bridge plate is glued together first, I use an underestimated cheap planer with razor blades to shape the three parts of the bridge plate. I plan with a coarse sandpaper as a base to firmly hold the piece of wood. Most of the top is then glued in step one in my mountable go-bar. The gluing takes place in two passes to be able to perfectly fit A-frame braces to the upper cross brace and the plate below.

Everything in the top is glued except the top cross brace. I fit it, but wait to glue it until later before the bottom is glued and when I can test the neck angle. With the right radius below in the underside of the brace, no wedge is needed under the fretboard on the top for a straight fretboard.

The large Levine gets an X-bracing. It takes longer to do an X-bracing as it is more complex. The most difficult thing is the cross joint between the two longest braces, it goes better every time! This gluing also takes place in two sessions.

Now all the bottoms and tops have their braces and I can disassemble the go-bar jig again.